MP: NCPCR Chairman Harassing Missionary Institutions for Political Gain, Allege Christian Missionaries
National Commission of Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) chairman Priyank Kanoongo. Image Courtesy: Twitter/@KanoongoPriyank
Bhopal: Last Friday, Madhya Pradesh High Court granted anticipatory bail to the two functionaries of the missionary orphanage -- Asha Kiran Homes -- booked under conversion laws.
On the complaint of National Commission of Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) chairman Priyank Kanoongo after the inspection, police booked Jerald Alameda (77) and Liji Joseph (64) at Madhav Nagar police station of Katni district on May 29, 2023.
They were accused of forcing 'Hindu children to read the Bible and visit the church. Allegations are also made that children are not allowed to celebrate Diwali and are forced to do Christian prayer. They were subsequently booked under sections 3 and 5 of the MP Freedom of Religion Act 2021 and Sections 75 of Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) 1 Act, 2015.
Granting anticipatory bail, the Court observed that the complaint was made by an individual who conducted the inspection, not by the victim who was attempted to be converted or converted person or his blood relatives or guardians, which is mandatory under the anti-conversion laws.
"...In the present case, a complaint has been lodged by an individual who conducted the inspection (Priyank Kanoongo). No complaint has been made by a person converted or aggrieved or against whom an attempt is made for conversion or by their relatives or blood relatives. In the absence of such a written complaint, police do not have any jurisdiction to inquire or investigate an offence committed under Section 3 of Act of 2021," the single bench of justice Vishal Dhagat said in the seven-page order copy.
The 18-year-old orphanage, registered under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, has 48 children, which was opened in 2005 after Indian Railway provided infrastructure, building and space to provide shelter to lost or orphaned children.
"NCPCR chairman Priyank Kanoongo who has been targeting missionary institutions for the last two years, barged inside the orphan on May 29, 2023, with police and members of right-wing groups in the name of sudden inspection," said father Thankachan Jose, associated to Asha Kiran Homes orphanage.
"He abused staff, threw papers on their faces and frightened them by threatening to send them to jail. He snatched their phones, broke open the cupboard, brought out some books, including the Bible and asked police to lodge an FIR on charges of conversion."
He did not stop here.
"He met with the orphan children and checked their bags. While leaving, he was questioned for not having a temple inside the campus," said father Jose, former National President of All India National Association of Catholic Schools.
"Interestingly, orphan children neither have any religion nor belong to any caste. Yet, he forced the police to lodge an FIR alleging conversion."
Similarly, the Jabalpur High Court also granted anticipatory bail to the 11 functionaries of Damoh's Aadharshila orphanage, who were also booked under conversion laws on the complaint of Kanoongo.
Almost 120 km away from Asha Kiran Homes, Aadharshila orphanage in Damoh, which was established in 2006, is affiliated with the Women and Child Development Department and Central Adoption Resource Authority. The 14 orphans who are living there were sent by Bal Kalyan Samiti to shelter and educate them.
"In September last year, on Sunday, he came around 6-7 pm with police officials and members of a right-wing group alleging conversion of the orphan children. As he entered the boy's hostel, he abused the warden, snatched his phone and threatened him," said Denial Manorath, a key functionary of the orphanage to NewsClick.
He further said that he broke a cupboard, seized the Bible, alleging conversion, and forced the Damoh Dehat Police station in charge to lodge an FIR against 11 persons, including Ajay Lal, director of the orphanage, under conversion laws.
"Later, he started making vile allegations against director Ajay Lal on Twitter, prompting right-wing groups to hold a protest against the director and burnt his effigy," he added.
Almost 600 km from Damoh, in Jhabua, Kanoongo entered a missionary institute for inspection in February 2023.
Speaking to NewsClick, Father Rocky Shah of the Missionary Institute alleged that he came with a police force and members of right-wing groups.
"He abused the staff, snatched their phones and threatened to send them to jail. He seized the Bible and asked the senior police official to lodge an FIR under conversion laws."
He further alleged, "Later, he lined up the students based on religion and began checking their bags. When a class 11th girl student fell unconscious, and others began to cry, he ran away from the place," said father Rocky Shah.
"But police officials did not file FIR despite the pressure."
Missionary institutions in Madhya Pradesh have alleged that the NCPCR is targeting minority institutions in the garb of conversion and placating them in false FIRs.
"Dozens of institutions have been targeted by the NCPCR chairman Kanoongo in the last two years alleging conversion and booked the staff and management under conversion and juvenile justice laws which did not stand in the Court of law. With the hand in gloves with the state government, he wants to polarise society ahead of Assembly polls," said father Thankachan Jose.
Responding to the allegations, Kanoongo told Newsclick, "While granting bail, the Court also observed that the orphanage should not promote one religion. Besides, the government's advocate failed to defend the case as MP's anti-conversion law is weak and only allows blood relatives to lodge FIR in case of conversion. But orphans did not have relatives."
When asked about the allegations of behaviour with the staff during the inspection and the presence of Bajrang Dal and VHP leaders with him, he said, "They should submit proof and lodge an FIR. As far as VHP and Bajrang Dal leaders are concerned, I don't know anyone."
He also blamed the state government and its lawyers for failing to defend the case in Court when asked about the failure of cases lodged by the commission.
Commenting on the allegations of targeting missionary institutions in the garb of religion, he said, "The commission has surveyed 645 shelter homes across the country and found that these institutions have received Rs 954 crore from foreign countries in just one year. The commission also succeeded in sending 1.45 lakh children to their homes who were kept in the orphanage to draw foreign funds. The conversion issue was under-reported, but since the NCPCR is waging war against it, the matter is coming to light."
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